A traveler’s question

I have a concern about the security system for the global immigration system. My problem with the system arises from a personal experience, as I have been a victim of the issue. So much so that the whole experience has left me with a very haunting memory. I have nightmares. I do. Having been a comprehensive traveler so far, I have some questions, which fester away in my questioning mind.
I am all for the security systems in place for the protection of the country or state around the world. I can even understand the very, and I mean very, strict regulations when to comes to issuing visas to citizens of developing countries. Sure, you must put significant border protection strategies in place for the security of your country’s citizens. But what I do not understand, and I may be completely ignorant for my lack of comprehension, is the sky rocketing fees for lodging an application when traveling to the beautiful, developed nations. Now the developed countries, which are helping us, the less developed countries, so much for our own advancement, have so much to offer in terms of learning. I believe that knowledge is a big part of attaining wisdom throughout life; at least every wise personality in the world has been quoted saying so. And travel is a great way to know more, learn more, grow more and everything more! Especially, for citizens of countries where development is a major issue. The more Bangladeshis can travel, the better equipped we become in holding experiential knowledge and contributing towards the development of our nation. But for some reasons, apart from imposing a high level of restriction on overseas travel, we are also faced with a very expensive application process, with a list of fees in addition to the submission of the application. With the way things are going, we may be subjected to fees being charged for breathing in a visa application centre – who knows right? It is easy for a few to shrug off this concern, because money may not be an obstacle for them. But I am thinking of the majority of the population, for whom it is a BIG barrier. I know students struggling to not only gather funds for tuition fees, living expenses, airline tickets but having to allocate additional funds for language tests, which have increased massively too; agent costs, because visa instructions are not easily understood by everyone as it is mainly in English; and of course the application expenses itself. I find it very ironic because I can understand the need for security and strict guidance to be adhered to when it comes to traveling, as recent events has not made it easier for us either, but why charge us so much? May I just reiterate the fact that we are developing countries and are already dealing with a number of issues in place? Lack of financial resources playing a vital role within the issues we face, which is why aid is being provided to us? I have personally faced a very hard time with several other factors when it came to my visa applications. Lack of cooperation from visa officers, hours of waiting in the visa centre, waiting with uncertainly for visa outcomes, no customer service structure for inquiries (you can email and wait, though), unknown fees while you are at the visa centre and you MUST pay cash. However, I have been fortunate to have traveled greatly, studied as well as lived overseas. But most people haven’t been so, and want to at least try when given an opportunity.
So, my concern is the irony of the system, which on one hand, protects people, and on the other, imposes great difficulties on them. Hey, I am not challenging or even remotely trying to change the system, as I am not rightfully armed to do so. But as I have mentioned before, I have a questioning mind. So I am asking, can the system perhaps show a tiny sliver of empathy towards us? I am not asking for a change, just may be lower expectations when it comes to the financial requirements from travelers in developing countries? Yes? No? Never? Not a chance in hell?


Learning to Fail

In recent times, I have been exceedingly reading about failure and its consequences. My personal journey has pushed me to start studying two elements in great detail – fear and failure. Having spent nights in cold sweats and grinding myself emotionally while having those demonic anxiety attacks, my only companion was myself. So what do I do? What should I do? Where should I go? What could I possible do to run millions of miles away from the nagging visions of fear creeping up my body and strangling me till I suffocate? I felt it. As Frost said, “The only way out is through”.

I started owning up to the fact that I know nothing, that I am solely responsible for my present circumstances and therefore, I must drop the blame game. It was tough, I must admit. The sweet taste of blaming someone for your own failures is the cherry on top of a cake, which has engraved, if only he/she/they said/did/didn’t say/didn’t do something, I wouldn’t be here. Slice that cake into tiny little pieces and eat it.

Then came the episode of reading, watching and listening to TED Talks and Stanford Commencement speeches over a bucket of KFC. What I learned over the months that followed is that successful people like Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, et al, were nothing but failures. They failed time and time again till they couldn’t fail anymore. But I knew this – their stories, so why is it teaching me my lesson now? I questioned the root of such a theory in existence – why are fear and failure the Death Eaters in our school of life? Where did it come from? Why are we so afraid? Was it our beautifully conditioned mind barricaded in socially and traditionally constructed thought processes which only rewards perfection and resents the tiniest of flaws? Maybe.

But let’s face it, we will have fears and we, undoubtedly, have overflowing, imperfect emotions, which we cannot control, leading to some sort of a rock bottom event in our lives. Heartbreaks, loss of loved ones, death, diseases, unemployment and a variety of incidents will inevitably occur in the course of our lives. So my question is, why are we teaching only about success and not about failure? Why are we teaching bravery and not the courage to confront our fears? Why are we arguing about faith when we are teaching only about the certainties about life? Where is the patience in a system where rewards are systematic and fixed for a specific outcome?

The current system of education originates from an outdated concept. To quote renowned educator, Sugata Mitra, Victorians assembled an education system to mass-produce workers with identical skills. Plucked from the classroom and plugged instantly into the system, citizens were churned through an educational factory engineered for maximum productivity. And it worked. However, fear was a strong element injected into the education system where if you fail, you are nothing but a loser. The emphasis on what you “must be” or “have to be” has created a culture of mass-produced students graduating with similar degrees, oblivious to their unique talents. Failure is thus the demon, and success, the God of all things. Alas, we forget that to see light, we need to experience darkness; to reach the top, we must start from the bottom.

I say we create a culture where we learn to deal with failures and embrace our imperfections from an early age. Let’s create a safe environment, which is this world, our home, where we can stumble upon our obstacles and have the courage to rise up and conquer our fears because we have been equipped with the lessons of resilience. But can we? Are we courageous enough to choose faith over fear and welcome failures before success? Can we uniquely define success for each individual and not manufacture life as a “one size fits all” concept? Perhaps, we can try. Just maybe we can fail at first and then at last, succeed?

What’s the rush?

Everyday, I catch the train to go to work. I spend the thirty minute commute attentively observing or silently snoring. Either way, I am left quite amused. It goes without saying that observation is a key to learning. Sometimes unwanted visual, audible and smelly learning, nonetheless, knowledge is a matter-of-factly empowering. But something, that we are all aware of and even a victim of, has been of great interest to me very recently – we always seem to be in a rush!

On my way to work today, at the train station, I noticed an absurd event. As soon as the train arrived on its platform, an Asian man pushed a young Caucasian woman to get ahead of her and win the first spot on the queue to board. The young woman, offended by his action, raised her hands in the air, without receiving any acknowledgment whatsoever from the man. Not only are we in a rush, we also seemed to have forgotten our manners. I was enraged at the scene and shared a glance of solidarity with my fellow passenger. When we boarded the train we glanced at each other again, this time we did so victoriously, because we both secured a seat while the obnoxious man failed to.

I always come across such hurries and worries. Even when I am out for a stroll in the afternoon, I find myself feeling incompetent and lost when everyone expresses their agitation if they are behind me and I am walking too slow (compared to them, ofcourse, not in general). Instantly, I become nervous and stop to give way. At such times, I wonder maybe we should have indicators too, like automobiles or perhaps, there should be speed limits on pedestrian accesses, as well. I will almost, always be on the left lane and avoid the highway.

The day it struck me that we have indeed become too fast was when a homeless person who always sits on the corner of a street, pushed me to walk ahead and then, turned back to make sure that I was aware of his indignation. Yes, that’s when I asked myself  have people become timeless?

It’s strange, in a world where spirituality seems to be reigning and people are chasing after inner peace to get through their day, time seems to be slipping through our fingers. I have a 9-5 job, and that’s all that defines my life. I spend the weekend worrying about Monday morning, and before I know it, my weekend has obviously passed away. Even if I find some time for yoga or reading, I always think about my work at the back of my head. The need to get ahead and leave everyone behind is a concept that should cease to exist. I never understood the reason behind competition- why do we have to instill competitiveness to motivate? Why do we have to insert an element of competition to raise efficiency? If we teach that, in order to be better, one needs to be better than others, how are we teaching unity or living harmoniously? I thought the industrial revolution was over or are we still trying to make machines out of humans? Motivation should come naturally towards something, and if it doesn’t then perhaps, something is just not right.

We are constantly racing in order to survive in a world with a population of more than seven billion people. Can we really win such a race?  So I wonder as I stare at my table clock in my office, what’s the rush?


Mass Amnesia Syndrome

While I was reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” a couple of weeks back, I felt I was reliving a moment in last year’s political turmoil in Dhaka. I was reading the part with the killing of three thousand men, women and children in the square near the railway station, who were gunned down by the soldiers sent to maintain order. Jose Arcadio Segundo, a survivor from the massacre, found himself heaped with dead bodies on a train and had managed to escape with the memory intact. He came back to the town of Macondo where it all happened, and discovered that no one could recall such an awful event ever taking place.

It reminds me of the night when members of the Hefazat-e-Islam were driven out of Dhaka city from the Shapla Chattar in Motijheel. The event had come to be termed as 2013 Operation at Motijheel Shapla Chattar. While, we have no clue what had actually happened as the government had barred any sort of media coverage on the night of the eradication, I still think of it as somewhat strange. It could be that nothing had happened or perhaps, a lot has happened, but we will never know. Many such events had happened at several points of time. We see, we hear, we read, but most importantly we forget. It’s like we all suffer from amnesia, unknowingly.

Thanks to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, we are aware of atrocities surrounding us on a daily basis. They help us to remove ignorance and tune into reality through other people’s status updates and sharing of articles, which may otherwise never make it to the newspapers. It helps. But like all other global problems, it makes us concentrate on the present moment and fails to sustain the impact of the awareness. We rant and share today, then we are made to forget tomorrow. Are we all suffering from Mass Amnesia Syndrome?

Not to single out this event only, and being a victim myself, it occurred to me that we forget very easily just as we are pleased very easily. In  a collective defense, I figured forgetting is part of the moving-on mechanism where if you hang on to an event or even a person, you often cease to live life presently. To counteract that very defense; we forget because we accept. In terms of this event, of which we have little to no information about, we had the right to know. The media plays a critical role in today’s society. It turned ignorant people like me to reading three to four newspapers a day to be updated on world affairs. It has more power than we can imagine as it influences our thought process and sometimes, even our actions. National catastrophes has recently become a vague memory in our lives as we “move on”. If we carry on this trend, then the earth may cease to be progressive in nature. We will almost always end up in the past, recreating history in all its glory. In fact, we are almost craving for the medieval times with our obsession over TV shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Sometime ago, even in the modern times, we were still slightly shy of watching nudity and repelled being exposed to bloody murders, let alone popping out eye balls with blood splattering all around! Now, we are all for it, celebrating the magnificence of a scene so well written by a writer who loves to kill off his most noble characters, and letting evil survive more often than not.

The discovery of the world being round has a lot to do with human lives too, in my humble opinion. We start at one point, make so much progress along the way, only to return to where we started.


Hefajat men flee Motijheel, The Daily Star, Monday, May 6, 2013


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